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Long Island Appliance Store Owner's Gamble Pays Off After Stocking Up On $1 Million Worth Of Inventory At Start Of Pandemic

LEVITTOWN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Having a hard time finding a new refrigerator, washer or dryer? You're not alone.

Unprecedented demand and COVID shutdowns are causing a nationwide appliance shortage but, as CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday, a small retailer on Long Island is bucking the trend.

Richard Merhige likes being a little guy in a big box store world. His independent appliance store, Jay's, in Levittown was opened by his dad in the fifties.

"This is my business. It's my life. It's my blood," Merhige said.

When coronavirus hit in March, Merhige was seriously ill for a month. One of his salesmen died.

"I'm seeing all of these first responders going out of their way for their country, so I said what can I do?" Merhige told Gusoff.

Then, appliance factories started closing, and he knew the answer.


"My mission is to make sure customers, they have enough to worry about, sickness, jobs. You know how many customers came in to me that were fired or furloughed?" Merhige said.

He leveraged all his savings on a gamble.

"I took every dime I had, every resource I had and I made it a mission in my life that I'm going to resolve my issue for them in delivering an appliance. How could that be so important? But, it was," he said.

More than $1 million of inventory - washers, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers - stocked to the roof in a massive warehouse in Suffolk County.

The gamble paid off.

"The phones were absolutely ringing off the wall," said co-owner Vicky Merhige. "It was just absolute pandemonium."

Big box stores still have months long backlogs amid record demand, according to Shawn Thelan, a professor of international business at Hofstra University.

"They're coming from countries that were hit very hard by the pandemic, which shut down their manufacturing," Thelan said.


Other independent retailers in Merhige's buying cooperative also stocked up.

"We just kept buying... because we knew that we needed to have inventory," said Jessica Dzenkowski, from Intercounty Appliance Corp.

Merhige said it's about more than profit.

"You know where it paid off? My conscience and my purpose of doing something. That paid off big time," he said. "Don't ever give up to the big guy."

Experts predict appliance backlogs will continue through 2021.

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